Britain ‘lagging behind’ on biofuels

The Government is not giving bio-energy a chance to fulfil its carbon-saving potential with a "piecemeal policy" that ignores bio-mass heat generation and focuses solely on bio-fuels for transport and electricity, a parliamentary committee has said.

The Government should also do more to bring the next generation of transport bio-fuels onto the market, including bio-fuel alternatives that give much higher carbon savings than those currently on the market, and even a “bio-aircraft fuel” in the form of synthetic kerosene made from biomass, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efracom) in its report Climate change: the role of bioenergy.

“We are deeply concerned that the terms of the Government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) have the potential to ‘lock in’ first generation biofuels, and in so doing, to damage the prospects for the commercial development of more advanced second generation biofuels,” the MPs said.

With transport emissions growing and aviation expected to contribute a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gases by 2030, the Government should seize upon the full potential of second-generation biofuels, they said.

Having taken evidence from industry actors including the Renewable Energy Association, carmakers, oil companies and the National Farmers’ Union, the Committee concluded that “Government policy on this issue amounts to disjointed piecemeal incentives, allowances and grant schemes.”

“The lack of ambition in this area of policy … calls into question its whole commitment to the domestic climate change agenda,” the MPs said.

Speaking on publication of the Report, the Committee’s Chairman, Rt Hon Michael Jack MP, said: “With prizes like a green aviation fuel, ten per cent of our road fuels produced from renewable sources and the production of one per cent of the nation’s heat demand from waste wood, the Government has got to show a much greater commitment, coherence and enthusiasm in the way it develops it bioenergy policies.

“For a nation that prides itself on its international leadership role on the climate change agenda, it’s not acceptable for Britain to lag behind so many other countries in the way that it is embracing bioenergy.”

But Efracom acknowledged that the development of biofuels is limited by the land availability, especially on a crowded island like Britain, and the potential negative effects on biodiversity and food production.

The MPs also pointed out a lack of sufficient evidence as to the real costs of biofuel development, suggesting that other means of limiting carbon emissions may turn out to offer better value for money.

Conclusions of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, due this autumn, should help rectify this problem, they said.

The full Efracom report can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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